Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Monday, July 11, 2022

DPWES Response to Terry Maynard Query re Incompleteness of Visual and Performing Arts Center (VPAC) "Feasibility Study" and His Brief Response

On July 8, Chris Herrington, Chief of the county's Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES), responded to the request from Terry Maynard, Reston 20/20, for an explanation of how the presentation provided by the Reston Community Center's (RCC's) consultant could be considered a "feasibility study."  Below is his reply and a brief rejoinder from Terry Maynard.

From: Herrington, Christopher S <>

To: terrmayn
Fri, Jul 8 at 9:03 AM

I do appreciate your general definition of a feasibility study, but our utilization of the term is dependent on the defined scope of the specific study in question.  Thus, for my department a feasibility study may only assess feasibility regarding specific constraints or objectives and not all aspects of feasibility.  I reviewed this project with our Department of Public Works and Environmental Services team.  The scope of the Reston Arts Center Feasibility Study was to evaluate the potential use of the Boston Properties' Block J site as a 60,000 square foot art center with these specific study goals:   


  • To evaluate community needs and requirements through a series of focused community outreach meetings for the potential use of the Block J site as an arts center.
  • To initiate preliminary art center programming, conceptual design, and approximate cost estimates based on expressed community needs.
  • To provide the study findings to assist in the determination of arts center proffer viability prior to the proffer option deadline of July 27, 2022.


I find that our feasibility study is consistent with that scope, and that the feasibility study findings align with community needs expressed in a 2018/2019 arts market study and needs analysis, as well as a 2019 community survey.  The study findings have been shared with Supervisor Alcorn, County leadership, and Reston Community Center leadership, for their use in determining the next steps for future development of the Block J site.

As you requested, we will make the feasibility study findings available in a printable format in the coming weeks for use in further community discussions.  I've asked our team to notify you when it is ready.  


Christopher Herrington, Director

Department of Public Works and Environmental Services
Fairfax County, Virginia


Terry Maynard <>
To:Herrington, Christopher S
Cc:Walter Alcorn,John Carter,Leila Gordon, RCC Contact,  Lynne.Mulston, and 12 more
Fri, Jul 8 at 2:41 PM

Thank you for your reply and your explanation. 

Unfortunately, I think we will have to agree to disagree on what a feasibility study is.  A "feasibility study" has a clear purpose, scope, and result as described in its definition.  The consultant's report does not meet that definition although it does generally meet the demands of the scope of work RCC provided you. 

I am particularly concerned about RCC's reliance on pre-pandemic market surveys to justify the "need" (vice "desire") for an arts center.  I don't think many of us desire to attend public gatherings in the way that we have in the past and it's not clear to me when/if that will change.  Performers, no doubt, would relish the opportunity.

Aside from the effects of the pandemic, I am deeply concerned about the legitimacy of the two market surveys used to justify the "need" for a visual and performing arts center.
  • The UVa study sent its questionnaire to 5,500 Reston households, fewer than 1/5 of Reston's 26,000-plus households. In turn, it received responses from fewer than 20% of the 5,500 households it queried.  In short, the survey represented the views of fewer than 8% of Reston's households.  Among the 3500-plus households that did not respond to the survey, my supposition would be that they did not believe an arts center was either a "need" or potentially even a desirable amenity.  Most probably threw away the survey because of a lack of interest in either/both completing the survey or having an arts center.  I certainly wouldn't presume they believe an arts center is a "need," statistically or otherwise.
  • The subsequent SurveyMonkey survey you mention had only 267 respondents, less than 1/2 percent of Reston's population.  Moreover, as anyone who has used SurveyMonkey knows, SurveyMonkey actually states its results are often not scientifically valid.  And the question structure in the survey was dubious.  For a population Reston's size (Is that the market?), the survey needed nearly 400 responses to achieve a limited +/-5% statistical validity.  These results shouldn't be used to justify a major initiative. 
I look forward to Supervisor Alcorn's further steps on this matter and hope that he takes a much deeper look at the value of an arts center, especially in the context of the broad range of true infrastructure needs Reston (and the rest of the county) faces.  In particular, I hope that he seriously considers a significant urban park on the land as Boston Properties alternatively proffered.  It is hugely needed, not just desired, to give any validity to the county's Urban Parks Guidelines--and it's less expensive. 

In the meantime, I look forward to reviewing the written arts center report when it is completed.

Thank you again.

Terry Maynard

Thursday, July 7, 2022

LTE: Inadequacy of RCC "Feasibility Study" for Reston Performing Arts Center and Its Costs

 The following is a letter to the editor of the Reston Patch that was published on July 6, 2022.

Dear Editor,

The Reston Community Center’s (RCC’s) consultant working on a “feasibility study” for a visual and performing arts center (VPAC) in Reston reported its findings to the community on June 13. The results were less than satisfactory although I blame RCC and the county for this, not the contractor.

Most basically, the presentation and viewgraphs were not about “feasibility” nor was it a “study.” The “study” was a 31-page PowerPoint presentation with 8-pages of non-substantive introduction at the front end. The “study” covers only a design concept and a limited construction cost projection, nothing on operating costs or economic benefits. It said nothing about market demand beyond the input of about two dozen regular participants in the community engagement meetings, and it seemed to rely on a separate pre-pandemic market survey to justify its limited positive results.

So what does a feasibility study normally incorporate? Here are the topics identified in the table of contents from one feasibility study I reviewed:
  • demographic & socioeconomic analysis,
  • local and regional facility analysis,
  • local & regional group interviews,
  • concept (covered) & location recommendations (given), and
  • financial & economic analysis including:
    • preliminary construction cost (addressed)
    • operating projections & subsidies
    • funding options
    • economic benefit.
At RCC’s suggestion, I asked Fairfax County’s DPWES [Department of Pubic Works and Environmental Studies] —which supported the VPAC “feasibility study”—for more details last week. Other than an acknowledgement of my request, no response yet. We are a long way from a thorough feasibility study that helps us make a wise decision about whether to proceed and, if we do, how.

Meanwhile, the consultant’s presentation provided a good look at a possible design for a Reston VPAC. Most importantly, while it looked at a possible 700-seat theater — a “moderate” size theater — it could not reasonably fit it into the small space proffered by Boston Properties. It proposes a 500-seat theater with a large stage and orchestra pit and notes, “This house capacity may require adding more performance dates.” Or what?

While the design concept is thorough, only one page is devoted to the cost of the proposed VPAC. That estimated cost is $58 million in current dollars (for a 57,000 GSF VPAC—more than $1,000/GSF) or $81.4 million in 2030. The debt service on that 2030 cost over a 30-year period financing by county industrial bonds would make the total construction cost $136 million.

And that doesn’t cover operating losses, and not-for-profit theaters such as the Reston VPAC routinely cover only about 40% of their operating costs through operating revenues (tickets, concessions, etc.). Based on the pro forma financial analysis in one theater feasibility study I reviewed, it suggests that $500-$600 thousand annually, escalating with inflation, would need to be added to break even. That money must come from public or private sources. And that puts the Reston special tax district (STD#5) back into play whether as the primary source or a supplement to business and arts group giving. There is no indication yet from the county that it won’t put the burden on Reston alone.

It appears the total annual cost of building and operating a Reston VPAC in 2030 will be about $5.3 million, more in the ensuing years. Reston residents and businesses, all part of STD#5, should not be asked to carry that burden. A small model I made of the possible costs to Reston STD#5 taxpayers (see below), if the burden is placed on us, is that the revenue shortfall in 2030 would require RCC to increase the STD#5 tax rate from $.047 to $.062 per $100 valuation — a 31% tax rate hike — if (a) RCC were to sustain its current activities and (b) there were no contributions from elsewhere.

I am certain that I don’t want to spend the extra money each year on taxes to have a Reston VPAC built and operated on the Reston community’s dime, and I doubt that many of your readers do either. This is especially true when Reston has so many more important needs, not just amenities, such as schools, urban parks, and a renewed regional library. The county, specifically Supervisor [Walter] Alcorn who has now taken control of the VPAC initiative, needs to oversee a substantial amount of additional research and analysis on the value of a VPAC, not to mention extensive consulting with the community, before proceeding with it at all. We’ll see whether he ultimately believes it’s worth the county’s investment. It’s not worth Reston’s.

Terry Maynard